Anthanasian, Under the Magic Lantern

By Fernando Birri

Words sprinkle like seeds for the young telecineastes that graduate today

To the ‘Birth Act’ of EICTV – read on the twilight of the 15th of December 1986 in the presence of Fidel Castro, to all the film colleagues of the Fundacion del Nuevo Cine Latino Americano, honourable international guests and public, and exactly four years to the day later, during the graduation ceremony for the first promotion of “TeleCineastes”, I followed the reading of the ‘Confirmation Act’ with this…

If an engineer builds a bridge badly, that bridge falls; if a doctor fails to cure a sickness, the sick person dies; if a filmmaker, a videomaker or TV-maker makes a film badly, a video badly, or TV badly, apparently nothing happens; nobody dies. Tibetans, schemers and Jean Cocteau all said: “distrust the mirrors”; I say, distrust the impunity of the images. Because what are these images but the ephemera of the mirrors, the dangers of the mirrors, mirrors capable of reflecting dreams, able to evoke over a white screen the universal world and to make it vanish it again into a white nothingness without even shattering? I’m asking for your eyes and for your ears. Images can also kill by disintegrating the secret structures of the imagination, burying the conscientious neurons under the rubble of insensibility, venality and mediocrity.

Aware of their responsibility towards the physical body of the human, doctors – for several centuries now – in a moment like this one, made their Hippocratic Oath of initiation, in the name of the salutary proto-physician Hippocrates. In this twilight I propose – for the health of the audiovisual imaginary – this new oath in the name of father Athanasious Kircher; the 17th century inventor of the Magic Lantern (you don’t need to reply aloud. For me it would be enough if you do it for yourselves):

Do you swear that you will not film a single frame that would not be like freshly baked bread; that you will not record a single millimetre of magnetic tape that would not be like clear water?

Do you swear that you will not let your eyes drift, that you will not close your ears to the truly beautiful and the truly horrible, from the soil of Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa and Asia, out of which you’ve been made, and of which you are its fatal expression?

Do you swear that, loyal to an irrefutable sense of liberating justice, truth, and beauty, you will not retreat from the ghostly threats, from anguish, from solitude, from madness, and that you will keep zealous allegiance to your internal voice in spite of everything?

If you do not, let the tiger and the eagle devour the liver of your dreams, let the snake wrap itself around the chassis of your camera, let armies of sparkling glow-worms short-circuit and interfere with your electronic recorders.

But if you do, as we trust you will, let hummingbird protection shield you with the delicate cuirass of a rainbow for the rest of your life and moreover, for the rest of your work.

Fernando Birri

Cuba, 1990

Birri is the founder and director of EICTV, The International Film and Television School, also called ‘of the three worlds’ – Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. Thanks to Pepe Petos for awareness of this and its translation.